DOLE: Both Citra Mina, supplier liable for any labor offense

MANILA, Philippines – To set the record straight, Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz explained that both tuna exporting giant Citra Mina and its supplier will be held administratively liable for any labor violations against the 43 repatriated fish workers detained in Indonesia.

"Both principal and subcontractor will be held jointly and solidarily liable," Baldoz told Rappler last week on the sidelines of a project closure conference of the International Organization for Migration.

The labor chief cited Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Order 18-A series 2011, which she issued to regulate contracting and subcontracting labor arrangements.

Baldoz explained that DOLE's compliance monitoring mechanism is such that the department works together with the company to gradually bring down the number of labor offenses.

Citra Mina spokesperson Fred Lumba had earlier denied any employer-employee relationship between the tuna exporter and the 43 workers, allegedly abandoned in detention overseas.

Instead, Lumba pointed to its fish supplier Felisa Ave as the direct employer and the one responsible for the fishers. (READ: Citra Mina: No direct relationship with 'abandoned' workers')

However, Baldoz' DO 18-A provides that principals and contractors will be held jointly liable for any violations in labor, occupational health, and safety standards. 

In an interview with Rappler Thursday, March 5, Lumba said Ave was not contracted for the labor services of the fishermen onboard her ship Love Merben 2.

Citra Mina and Ave's business arrangement started years ago as a mere "handshake agreement," he said. Ave is free to supply fish to other companies, he added.

Love Merben 2 was seized in Indonesia for allegedly illegally fishing in its waters. Having no travel documents, its fishing crew were held in detention.

National labor center Sentro had alleged that Love Merben 2 was in fact financed by Citra Mina, which the group said must be liable for what the workers went through.

'Not abandoned'

Lumba denied allegations of abandonment, aside from denying any responsibility to the workers of Ave.

He said Citra Mina had helped Ave get in touch with the Philippine consul in Manado, Indonesia, to help the 43 fishers.

"We have our own integrity to protect," Lumba said, citing the many clients of Citra Mina overseas. "There are thousands of families that are dependent on us."

Speaking with Rappler in the vernacular, as translated by his son and Love Merben 2's ship captain Allan Ave, Felisa Ave said the ship was financed through a P14-million loan she got from Citra Mina. 

Ave is at a loss as to how to pay off this debt, given the ship's recent seizure by Indonesian authorities.

Sentro secretary-general Josua Mata had accused Citra Mina of knowingly sending an illegal fishing expedition.

But Lumba said Citra Mina does not advise its suppliers to seek to go beyond Philippine territory. "We know the trouble they get in" when they do, he added.

'Like family'

Under DO 18-A, firms engaged in labor-only contracting and subcontracting arrangements are required to register with DOLE regional offices for compliance monitoring.

It requires a contractor or subcontractor and its principal to ensure workers' right to minimum wage, security of tenure, safe and healthy working conditions, Social Security Systems and PhilHealth benefits, rest days, holiday pay, 13th month pay, separation pay, overtime pay, and other allowances provided in the Labor Code. Workers hired through a third party are allowed to form unions.

The fishers Rappler interviewed denied being given any of these benefits, despite years of work with the ship Citra Mina financed. (READ: 'Citra Mina ignored my family's cry for help')

Ave, however, clarified that she does not provide the fishers with salaries but merely gives them their share from the paid fish stocks she supplies to Citra Mina.

Ave started supplying fish for Citra Mina around 1984, she said. Lumba said she is "like family" to the company owners.

Their business arrangement started when Citra Mina was "naghahanap ng ma-fi-finance niya (looking for a supplier it can finance)," said Ave.

The birth of DO 18-A

DO 18-A series 2011 was issued by Baldoz after a stalemate in negotiations prevented legal reforms on labor-only contracting to push through.

A draft bill that sought to protect contractual workers' rights and address perennial issues raised by labor groups was stuck at the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council, headed by Baldoz with members representing the labor and employers’ sectors.

Some labor groups called for an end to labor contracting, while employers argued that such hiring arrangements are permitted under the Labor Code and are well within their rights as managers.

The department order sought to harmonize opposite views from the labor and employers’ sectors. –